Posts Tagged ‘foreign currencies’

Tourist spots averse to foreign exchange

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Sign at Hakone souvenir shop

Discouraging words: Sign at Hakone souvenir shop

A friend in the tourist industry recently brought a group of middle aged and elderly Americans to Hakone National Park in Shizuoka Prefecture and the area around Mount Fuji. In Hakone, one of Japan’s most famous sightseeing spots, the Americans were discouraged from buying souvenirs when they got off the sightseeing boat at Lake Ashi because the large store at the dock does not take credit cards. This is not unusual for merchants outside of the major cities in Japan, but Hakone supposedly is enthusiastic about attracting foreign tourism. In fact, the policy seems downright stupid since the one souvenir shop in Hakone that does take credit cards is always packed.

My friend said that he always has the same problem in Hakone. Most of the restaurants there don’t take credit cards either. In addition, there are no foreign exchange services in Hakone except at some large hotels, which only guests can use. And the hotel in Fuji City where the American group stayed because it has a good view of Mount Fuji also does not exchange money. In fact, when our friend asked the front desk where people could exchange money in Fuji City the employee said he didn’t know.

We called the Hakone tourist association directly and asked about foreign exchange. The person who answered had to inquire of someone else and then told us that “some banks” in Hakone offer foreign exchange services but he didn’t know which ones. Also, banks in the area close at 3 p.m. on weekdays and are not open at all on weekends. We know that ATMs in post offices and 7-11 convenience stores will dispense yen for most foreign credit cards, but that means foreign tourists have to know this beforehand and then locate those businesses.

The truth is, Japan has never been very accommodating to tourists when it comes to foreign exchange, despite occasional campaigns like “Yokoso Japan” to boost foreign tourism. Of course, most tourists prefer to use credit cards these days, and you can use them easily enough in large Japanese cities, but once you leave metropolitan areas it gets a bit dodgy. Stand-alone foreign exchange services (ryogaejo) can be found at international airports and places like Tokyo Disneyland, but elsewhere they’re usually integrated into banks, which often make the exchange process a chore, requiring the copying of passports and other time-consuming procedures.

Let’s face it. Most Japanese businesses don’t trust anything but yen, in cash.

Foreign currency saving: Norway or the highway

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Here's a pretty picture of Bergen while you think about opening a Norway kroner savings account

Here’s a pretty picture of Bergen while you think about opening a Norway kroner savings account

As you undoubtedly know, keeping your money in a regular savings account in a Japanese bank is as fiscally productive as stuffing it in your futon – or keeping it in your tansu (wardrobe), as the locals like to say. In fact, with interest rates near zero, you’d actually make more money keeping your money in your futon if the inflation rate was bigger than the interest rate, but with deflation as it is right now that isn’t going to happen.

Zero inflation has been a fact of Japanese banking life for longer than I care to remember, and one of the alternatives is foreign currency savings accounts. Back in 2004 we stashed a couple of million yen we received after cashing in our miserable insurance policy from then defunct Chiyoda Seimei (lost on that one) into a Citibank savings account in Australian dollars. At the time the interest rate was 4 percent and the exchange rate was ¥82.14 to one Australia dollar. The maturation period was one year, but each month you could extract whatever interest you made that month and turn it back into yen. The sticking point is that the exchange rate was fluctuating, so if the Australian dollar went up, you could make a little money, but if it was going down, you might want to wait until it bounced back.

Well, we waited . . . and waited and waited. During most of 2004, the Aussie dollar fluctuated between ¥74 and ¥79. By the time the account matured in February 2005 it was back to about 81. With the loss in the exchange rate and the accumulated interest all factored in, when we converted the money in the account back to yen, we ended up with just a little more than what we started with. One reason is that you don’t really get ¥81, because Citibank takes one yen on each Australian dollar as a handling fee.

Continue reading about saving foreign currencies →


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